SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE MEMORIES
Dawn of the Nuclear Slime…
By Nick CatoReleased about six months after the unlikely success of THE TOXIC AVENGER, Troma Films’ second take on radioactive raunchiness, CLASS OF NUKE ‘EM HIGH (1986), is another New York/New Jersey-lensed exploitation epic that Lloyd Kaufman’s crackpot film company managed to sort-of get right…at least if B-movies are your thing.
While I wanted to see this in Times Square (being it wasn’t in wide-release), a small theater in New Jersey actually featured it for one week only. I conned a couple of my buddies to join me on my quest for Tromaville, and we headed to the Garden State hoping this would at least be half as good as the first TOXIC AVENGER.
Warren and his cute girlfriend, Chrissy, are among the few clean cut students at Tromaville High, which happens to be located right behind a nuclear power plant. The punk students (who look like rejects from a really bad ROAD WARRIOR rip-off) grow marijuana right outside the plant, and begin selling radiation-laced pot around the school. One early sequence of government officials checking the power plant for toxic leaks had the audience in stitches; some men fell to the ground stone-cold dead as others kept about their jobs, unaware of what was happening to their colleagues. It’s a nice bit of old-fashioned slapstick that worked among the coming gore, slime, and radioactive boobies.
Despite their nerdiness, Warren and Chrissy decide to partake of the toxic weed. As a result, Warren gains incredible strength, and Chrissy becomes incredibly horny…which leads to a wicked spin in the sack with her boyfriend…which leads to a pregnancy. Before long the entire school is having strange side effects, the best being Chrissy’s baby who turns out to be a ten-foot tall radioactive monster who eventually helps to wipe out the toxic punk drug dealers.
If you’ve never seen a Troma film before, CLASS OF NUKE ‘EM HIGH is a prime example of the style that gave them notoriety during the splatter-film craze of the 1980s. One sequence, where an enraged Warren goes after a punk who has messed with him one time too many, features a silly (yet effective) special effect where he rams his fist down the guy’s throat. The New Joisey crowd ate this scene up, cheers growing louder as Warren’s arm eventually goes down further than his elbow with puke-inducing sound effects.
You don’t go to see something called CLASS OF NUKE ‘EM HIGH for artistic value.
While THE TOXIC AVENGER had a better crafted (if familiar) story, CLASS OF NUKE ‘EM HIGH is basically pure chaos: the simple premise is set in motion when a nerdy student freaks out during the opening scene, oozes green slime from his ears, then jumps out the second-floor window. The atomic marijuana is then introduced, along with an endless array of whacky characters. The two directors (Lloyd Kaufman and Richard W. Haines)—for some reason it took two directors to create this!—then let everything go ballistic in a brain-dead, toxic high school gore/sci-fi romp that (at the time) was a pure blast for its intended teenage audience. I’ve seen the film a few times over the years on VHS and DVD, and while there are still some laughs to be had, much of it gets tedious and it doesn’t hold up half as well as THE TOXIC AVENGER or Troma’s other fluke of a hit, TROMA’S WAR (1988). But I’m betting younger exploitation fans will still get a real charge out of this high-octane trip to Tromaville.
NUKE ‘EM HIGH’s horrible soundtrack, trademark Troma bad acting, and high school students who look way too old to be high school students has a certain charm that many modern-day made-for-cable/DVD exploitation films just don’t have. So throw your biohazard suit on and check this out for a near-lethal dose of old school Troma-rificness. And remember the tagline: READIN’ WRITIN’ AND RADIATION!
You’ve been warned.
(This film also spawned two sequels: CLASS OF NUKE ‘EM HIGH PART 2: SUBHUMANOID MELTDOWN (1991) and CLASS OF NUKE ‘EM HIGH 3: THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE SUBHUMANOID (1994). While part 2 had its moments (especially a gigantic rodent named Tromie the Nuclear Squirrel), you’re not missing anything. Part 3 was one of the worst films I’ve ever seen. You’ve been warned again!).
© Copyright 2012 by Nick Cato